How you think determines your success and satisfaction in life, and yet most people don’t consciously think about their thought process. They allow their automatic, unconscious thinking to control what they feel, say, and do. It’s an easy – but ineffective – way to think. Successful people make an effort to consciously improve their thinking. It’s time well spent because thoughts drive actions and actions drive outcomes. To achieve better results, start with better thoughts.
Reading is a powerful way to improve thinking. The following 12 books can help you become a more effective thinker if you act on what you read. Each book approaches thinking differently. Some are philosophical. Some are psychological. Some are practical. Some focus more on the conscious mind; others on the unconscious mind. Some are business-oriented while others are more personal in nature.
The 12 books are listed in the order they were originally published. The oldest book was published in 1903 and the newest in 2019. In addition to the title, author, and publication date, each book includes a brief description and quote.
1. As a Man Thinketh. James Allen. 1903.
DESCRIPTION: A small booklet on how our thoughts affect our character, circumstances, and achievements.
QUOTE: Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life.
2. Think and Grow Rich. Napoleon Hill. 1937.
DESCRIPTION: A philosophy of success that explains how to use the power of thought to achieve what you want.
QUOTE: The most practical of all methods for controlling the mind is the habit of keeping it busy with a definite purpose, backed by a definite plan.
3. Six Thinking Hats. Edward de Bono. 1985.
DESCRIPTION: A practical guide on how to make decisions by considering issues from six unique perspectives.
QUOTE: The biggest enemy of thinking is complexity, for that leads to confusion. When thinking is clear and simple, it becomes more enjoyable and more effective.
4. The Art of Thinking Clearly. Rolf Dobelli. 2011.
DESCRIPTION: A book about human psychology, reasoning, and the biases that interfere with our day-to-day thinking.
QUOTE: The contrast effect can ruin your whole life…bombarded by advertisements featuring supermodels, we now perceive beautiful people as only moderately attractive.
5. The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distractions. P. M. Forni. 2011.
DESCRIPTION: An instruction manual for making time for thinking in an age of digital distractions.
QUOTE: Comprising our faculties of awareness and focus, attention is the very bedrock of thinking. Attention is indispensable to learning.
6. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman. 2011.
DESCRIPTION: A psychologist explains the mind’s two systems: System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, deliberative, and logical.
QUOTE: Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.
7. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird. 2012.
DESCRIPTION: A short, practical guide to thinking better through the use of thought-provoking techniques and exercises.
QUOTE: Take a project that you’re facing and quickly just do it…Now consider that poor effort as your starting point: react to that work and start to improve and iterate.
8. Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction. Edited by John Brockman (with contributions from Daniel Kahneman, Jonathan Haidt, Daniel C. Dennett, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and more). 2013.
DESCRIPTION: A collection of original ideas on thinking by today’s leading psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers.
QUOTE: It’s not the objective environment that influences people, but their constructs of the world. You have to get inside people’s heads and see the world the way they do.
9. Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills. Michael Kallet. 2014.
DESCRIPTION: A comprehensive guide with tools for applying critical thinking techniques to everyday business issues.
QUOTE: A framework to think in provides two huge benefits: it helps organize and guide your thinking while leveraging and incorporating others’ input as well.
10. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Alan Jacobs. 2017.
DESCRIPTION: A contrarian look at why we’re not as good at thinking as we assume and how we can recover the lost art of thinking.
QUOTE: When we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.
11. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Annie Duke. 2018.
DESCRIPTION: A poker player’s observations on how to get comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions with incomplete information.
QUOTE: If we want to improve any aspect of our lives, we have to learn from the results of our decisions. The quality of our lives is the sum of decision quality plus luck.
12. The Thinking Game: A Winning Strategy for Achieving Your Goals. Kara Lane. 2019.
DESCRIPTION: A complete guide to effective thinking with powerful rules, tools, and strategies for achieving goals, making decisions, and solving problems.
QUOTE: You need to understand your conscious mind because that is what you control. You need to understand your unconscious mind because that is what will otherwise control you.
Although I’m partial to The Thinking Game (because I wrote it), all 12 books provide valuable information on how to think more effectively. Choose the books that spark your interest. Or read a book a month, and in one year you’ll have your master’s degree in thinking!